MPs warn that plans to transform NHS mental health services for young people will take too long to effect real change

Government plans to tackle the mental health crisis among young people will fail a generation who desperately need help, two committees of MPs warn today.

Proposals in a green paper to “transform” NHS mental health care for young people through maximum four-week waiting times to access help and improved support in schools will take too long to effect real change, the committees say.

In a joint report, the Commons health and social care and education select committees criticise the plans as unambitious and inadequate given the fast-rising need for care and too reliant on already overworked teachers.

“This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on getting the help they so desperately need,” said Rob Halfon, the Conservative chair of the latter committee and former education minister.

Although ministers have pledged to introduce maximum waiting times is only to be made available across up to a quarter of England by 2022-23.

“The suggested speed of delivery will leave hundreds of thousands of children with no improvements in provision for several years and with possibly worsened provision if staff leave to join trailblazer areas elsewhere,” the report says.

Children’s charities, mental health groups, teaching unions and health organisations have endorsed the committees’ findings.

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The crisis in child mental health provision will not be ‘transformed’ by the unambitious proposals in the government’s green paper. A government that’s complacent about child poverty and relaxed about excessive testing in schools can’t claim to care about young people’s mental health.”

At least 10% of children and young people are thought to suffer from anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders or other mental health conditions. The numbers of under-18s seeking and receiving NHS care have soared over the last decade. But only a quarter who need help get it, according to Public Health England .

Javed Khan, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “The government risks missing a golden opportunity to radically transform a failing mental health system. Despite Theresa May describing it as a ‘burning injustice’ that required a new approach from government, we now find ourselves sleep-walking into a deepening mental health crisis.”

The government’s plans are based on three key elements: a teacher at every school and college becoming its designated lead for mental health; help for schools from new mental health support teams; and the guarantees of help within four weeks.

However, the report adds: “The proposals put more pressure on the teaching workforce without sufficient resources.”

It highlights the negative impact of social media on young people’s mental wellbeing and suggests that pupils should be taught about the benefits and risks of social media as part of the school curriculum.

Jeremy Hunt, the health and social care secretary, last month claimed that social media companies’s alleged failure to enact safeguards to control young people’s access was “morally wrong” and “unfair on parents”.